Philippe Gilbert (Lotto Soudal) is unsure as to whether he can hit top form for the Spring Classics due to the long-standing knee injury he sustained in last year’s Tour de France. The Belgian crashed out on stage 1 in Nice and although he came back to race towards the tail-end of 2020 he was forced to end his season before the rescheduled spring Classics. He has struggled over the winter to regain his fitness with the broken kneecap he sustained in France limiting his training volume and intensity but the veteran rider is holding out hope that after racing in February and early March he can pick up the necessary miles and speed in order to hit form.
“We’ll see later if I do Paris-Roubaix or not. For the moment I want to race and see how my knee is. Roubaix isn’t so important in my eyes, so I’ll see later about that. First I want to race again and see if I can get into the finals with the best for the wins. If this happens then I can think about more serious goals. But now it’s hard to say. I’ll stay quiet on the big goals for now because it’s hard to say,” he told a group of media that included Cyclingnews on Monday.
Gilbert has suffered two kneecap breaks in his career, with the first occurring at the Tour de France in 2018. The latest setback has hit harder than the first and has severely limited his workload during the off-season.
“It’s been a lot worse than I expected. I was facing a lot of problems with my leg and not just the knee. I lost a lot of muscle on the left and I pretty much started from zero. The first week I was the level of a beginner. I had no reference and that’s why today it’s hard to see where I am. I’m coming from a long way back and there are still two or three weeks of work. Then I can add some volume and speed. Since I stopped in Binckbank it’s been a long time since I rode with speed. All the problems are fixed and I can push hard again, but it’s still some time before the season starts. It’s the second shock on the same bone though and the second time to come back is always harder.”
Despite the uncertainly over his condition, Gilbert’s 2021 season will kick off at the Grand Prix Cycliste la Marseillaise at the end of January with Etoile de Bessèges – Tour du Gard, Grand Prix Cycliste la Marseillaise, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, and Paris-Nice taking him right up to the Spring Classics. The first major appointment in his diary comes at Milan-San Remo, where the Belgian is still holding out hope of completing the full set of Monument titles having already won in the Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix, Liege-Bastogne-Liege, and Il Lombardia.
“It’s a dream,” he said of Milan-San Remo.
“I don’t know if it’s possible this year but it’s my motivation. If I made all these sacrifices it’s to come back for that. It’s my motivation to go training every day to try and become stronger. I always think about Milan-San Remo, it’s so important and I know that if I can do that then it will change my career and my palmares.”